As someone who has been a community organizer for years, I recognize the power of the Women's Marches that swept the globe on Saturday. It was a historic moment. People on every continent, even scientists in Antarctica, rose up in solidarity with American women. That is unprecedented.
Within these marches, people from all sorts of movements were represented. Many participants recognize the struggles we share and that women are leaders in every fight for freedom. For a moment, people of all genders and ideologies walked together. It was astounding.
I participated in a sister March in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to stand with the women here who put out the call. In that sea of pink hats and clever signs, what I witnessed gives me both hope and concern. It's wonderful that for a day, we came together. But will we stay together?
Having organized within movements for LGBTQ equality and worked for black liberation, I know it is critical that we turn moments into momentum. We must channel the energy rising among the people into continuous action. That requires us to simultaneously stop to listen to each other, and keep on moving.
That sounds contradictory, I know, but it's the only way we can turn this lightning strike of apparent solidarity into a lasting storm. If you took to the streets or supported from afar, you stood with people whose concerns are bound up with your own. But you may not yet understand what that really means.
I'm a black gay cisgender man. I know that right now, I need to listen to my sisters who are rising up (not just my cis-ters, as one slogan demands) and learn from them. I need to recognize that my liberation is bound up in the liberation of women, and understand that I possess privileges others do not have access to. That's true of all of us. That's precisely why we all need to listen to those who have the most at stake in this moment.
Meanwhile, many women expressed concerns over the marches being centered on heterosexual cisgender white feminism. Some abstained from the marches: not because they don't believe in solidarity or feminism, per se, but because they are not confident that they are included in this movement. As Jamilah Lemieux wrote at Color Lines the week before the march, “I’ve never felt any thing remotely resembling sisterhood with White women. Friendship, affinity, fondness, love — sure. Sisterhood? Nah. That sense of loyalty, interconnectedness, accountability and shared struggle simply isn’t there.” Before you come in with a hot take on that stance, listen to her and those who share that view. That conclusion was not reached on a whim. It comes from lifetimes of experience being excluded and ignored.
How many black women have called upon us and received no answer? How many Latinx organizers? How many sex workers seeking justice? How many trans people? Too many. Most of us only look on from a distance, if we look at all, as they continue to rise with or without us.
At the march I attended, a chant of “Sí, se puede!” rose up from a group just behind me. A few steps ahead of me, an older white woman lamented that the words were not in English. This slogan — born in 1972 as a rallying cry for immigrant farmers demanding their right to organize — did not meet the standards of some marchers. Conversely, I was among the liberal activists who expressed shock and skepticism over conservative women expressing their intention to show up in support — women who, while likely not pro-choice, do recognize some forms of oppression which need to be challenged.
Upon reflection, I realize the problem is not who did or did not show up or how people chose to express what they were marching for. The problem is who we are not talking to. This movement is an opportunity to meet each other and have those conversations. We can learn how to be co-conspirators for freedom while challenging the privilege, prejudice, and preconceived notions we all carry to some degree.
How do we do that? Personally, I am being more intentional about how I engage people in my community. I'm having conversations that I would normally sidestep or meet with contempt: like talking with people who don't understand that police, being agents of the system, inherently can’t be part of changing the system, even if they put on a pink hat and refrain from arresting any protesters for one day. I possess the privileges of class, being a cisgender male, education, and color (because light-skinned color privilege is a real and complicated thing), which allows those people to hear me more often than they might hear others. My role there is to defer to those who have been raising their voices on these issues for generations without qualifying their perspectives.
I'm also looking for ways that I can have the most impact locally and nationally. While Trump is the focus of much of the outrage right now, there are elected officials at every level of government who are against justice for marginalized people. You do not have to accept their agendas as inevitable.
Elected officials rarely hear from their constituents, and they hate the idea that they might not get elected again. Use that to your advantage. Get your talking points together. Write out why you believe in abortion access, or trans rights, or environmental justice, or any other cause. Then call and email their offices every chance you get.
There are resources to help you engage elected officials. One is the Countable app, which will keep you up to date on what your representatives and senators are doing in Washington while giving you an easy way to contact them on specific issues. Or just call the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and give them your zip code to be put in touch with the right offices. Let your senators and members of Congress know what you want to see from them. They work for you, after all. If they don't want to do that job, you can always hire someone else.
There is a call for citizens to run for office now, too. We need dedicated and compassionate candidates who can serve in that capacity. If you know you can represent your people, go for it and start building up your support now. But if you don't think you're cut out to run, you can work in your community to identify and support the leaders who are. We have midterm elections next year that could shift the balance of power. You might just be one of the people who can tip the scales of justice in our favor.
Take what we witnessed with the Women's March as a sign that we must continue to take action in a variety of ways. Progress requires a convergence of things that may seem contradictory. Every era of change has had its share of marches and riots and elections and protests. We need the Nazi-punchers and the peacemakers. We need principled action and spontaneous uprising. We need the abolitionists and the reformists. We must organize while also channeling the chaos inherent in an ever-changing world. Like I say in the Social Justice Forecast every week, we need you — now more than ever, to keep us going well after the marches end.